Bishops met this week at the annual synod of Finland’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Joensuu under the leadership of the reform-minded Archbishop Kari Mäkinen. Among the items on the agenda was the question of the church’s teachings on marriage.
In an 11-page proclamation issued Wednesday afternoon, the church said that the parties to a church wedding should be a man and a woman.
This means that the church has decided not to grant same-sex couples the right to have priests officiate at their wedding ceremonies, although gender-neutral marriage laws will come into effect from March 1, 2017. However same-sex couples will continue to have the right to register their partnerships and to have civil weddings at local registry offices.
"The church is not turning its back on sexual and gender minorities or rainbow families, but they are welcome in all other respects. They are a part of us, and not separate from us or some kind of problem," said Archbishop Kari Mäkinen.
When Finnish Parliamentarians voted to legalise same-sex marriage in November 2014, Mäkinen hailed the move, saying it was time to examine the fundamental concept of marriage. However his comments led nearly 3,000 members to quit the church the same day he offered his reaction to the MPs' vote.
Disappointment among church ranks
The bishops’ announcement went on to say that, "The change to marriage laws means that members of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, persons in high office and workers stand with same-sex [persons] in marriage." It pointed out that the church should treat everyone with the same degree of respect.
Archbishop Mäkinen acknowledged however, that the official line on same-sex marriage may have caused some disappointment.
"I can imagine that there must have been some expectations that something definitive would happen now," he conceded.
Asked whether or not individual clerics could break with the church guidelines and officiate at a same-sex wedding in church, Mäkinen said, "At this stage it is not possible to say what the consequences of such an action would be," he commented.
The final position on matters involving marriage lies with the synod.
Wednesday’s announcement by the synod pointed out however, that a priest or other parish worker can pray for and with persons who have tied the knot in a civil ceremony, in accordance with guidelines laid down by the 2011 synod on free-form prayers for couples who have registered their partnerships.